/ Money

Banks, I just want to speak to a human being

Call centre cartoon

‘Press 1 for balance statements, 2 for payments…’ If you’ve called your bank recently, you were probably greeted by the robotic tones of an automated system. How easy is it to get through to a real person?

In order find an answer to this question, we called 10 banks and building societies as customers and went through all the options on their telephone menu. Of these, only First Direct puts you straight through to an adviser, while the remainder use interactive voice response (IVR) systems to filter calls.

Most banks told us that the main reason for this is to deal with a high volume of calls, which seems like a perfectly reasonable justification, especially when you consider Lloyds receives more than 109m calls a year to its contact centre network. Automated systems can also benefit customers by connecting to the person best-suited to help with their particular query.

Diagram of Navigating the telephone banking maze

However, we found that banks’ IVR systems are often unnecessarily complicated. For example, only three include ‘speak to an adviser’ as a standalone option on the first menu. Others bury it under several layers of options, meaning you have to spend longer searching for it.

It’s easy to feel a little overwhelmed by the sheer number of options on bank phone lines, and I think the overall experience could be significantly improved by making the menus less convoluted.

You can see just how difficult it is to speak to a human being when you call your bank with the diagram above (click on it to enlarge). It’s our interpretation of the options that appear on the telephone menu used by NatWest.

Security stumbling blocks

Clunky security systems can also act as an obstacle when contacting your bank via an automated system. In response to our last Conversation on calling your bank, commenter Rarrar highlighted this issue:

‘I just wish banks etc would have an option for general queries which don’t require security.’

The security checks are particularly fiddly when the system fails to recognise the details you’ve entered. It’s even more frustrating if you’re asked to repeat the same information when you’re connected to an adviser, which is what happened when we called Barclays and Santander.

Only one of the banks we looked at gave customers the option to speak to an adviser without having to input a range of personal details first.

The human touch

We’ve launched our Big Change campaign to ensure banks put customers’ needs at the heart of their business. Customers should be able to access services quickly and easily and banks should do more to ensure that this is achieved, for example by providing the option to speak to an adviser at the beginning of the call, or by making it possible to bypass the IVR at any point. And there should be no attempts to sell products to customers that they don’t want or need.

Do you find it a struggle to speak to a human being when calling your bank? Should banks be simplifying their menus in order to make them more accessible or do you find them easy enough to navigate?

Sugar Plum says:
20 April 2018

Be aware BE AWARE BE Aware of Scam calls. I got a call from Lloyds Bank they confirmed my name. I think this was a scan call so I hung up.